cover image Imaginary Friend

Imaginary Friend

Stephen Chbosky. Grand Central, $30 (720p) ISBN 978-1-5387-3133-8

Chbosky’s ambitious second novel (after 1999’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower) is a tale of good vs. evil that never gels. Seven-year-old Christopher and his mother, Kate, move to Mill Grove, Pa., after Kate leaves her abusive boyfriend. Kate gets a job at an old folks’ home, and Christopher, who has a learning disability, starts second grade and makes friends with a boy nicknamed Special Ed. One day, Christopher disappears into the Mission Street Woods; he emerges six days later, unscathed—but his learning disability has disappeared. Kate then wins the lottery and buys a new house bordering the woods, where a disembodied voice tells Christopher to build a tree house. Before long, Christopher gets debilitating headaches and strange revelations, a mysterious sickness spreads throughout the community, and a terrifying entity dubbed “the hissing lady” lurks around town. Chbosky brings deep humanity to his characters and creates genuinely unsettling tableaux, including a nightmarish otherworld that Christopher accesses via his treehouse, but considerable repetition extends the narrative while diminishing its impact. Christian overtones (some subtle, others less so) are pervasive, especially in the finale, and add little to the story. This doorstopper is long on words but short on execution. Agent: Eric Simonoff, William Morris Endeavor. (Oct.)